Living Longer, Living Better: The miracle of choice

The dreidel has the letters nun, heh, shin, gimel that remind us of the “miracle.” What is fascinating is that, as we get older, many of us become more aware of the real miracles that surround us each day. Of course, those of you familiar with the prayer book know that every day we include a series of blessings that celebrate the miracles of everyday life. One of the miracles that speaks to us is that of the ability or freedom to be able to make choices that impact our health and life. One of the fears of getting older is the fear of losing that ability to make our own choices. Thankfully, we increasingly have the ability to make our wishes known.

Sitting somewhere in a governmental committee in Washington is a new bi-partisan bill that was recently introduced by Senators Warner (D-VA), Collins (R-ME) and Congressperson Blumenauer (DOR). It is a bill to expand access to advanced care planning (ACP). The bill would expand access to ACP opportunities. A variety of patient and family advocacy groups support the bill. At the heart of the legislation is the desire to expand the opportunities for people to have their voices heard as to their wishes as life ebbs. As many who will be reading this know, the more our wishes are known and codified and distributed to appropriate people, the less stress and strain on a family system arises. The freedom to do this is a gift and is even more important now as our community ages.

The Pew study of people identifying as Jews, done in 2020, noted that close to 50 percent of those identifying as Jews were over 50 years of age. The issues involved with advanced care planning and caregiving are impacting more and more families. Most of our denominations have come out in favor of advanced care planning and the documentation of our wishes. Slowly our communities are recognizing the need to educate and raise awareness of Jewish tradition’s approach to end-of-life care as well as communal efforts, such as those being created here in partnerships between Jewish Federation and Samaritan Healthcare and Hospice. We hope that Sukkat Shalom, the Jewish advisory group to Samaritan, will be part of that evolving partnership.

Choice is empowering and vital. This is even more relevant here in New Jersey, which has our Medical Aid in Dying law which has been in place since August of 2019. The more we educate and raise awareness of what options exist and how Jewish texts and tradition can be supportive, the better all of us will be. As many of us know, moments of crises are not the best time to make decisions. The power of choice is part of our ethic.

We are reminded in Deuteronomy 30:19 to make choices that sanctify life, so that those who come after us will be blessed. Thus, there is this sacred link, generation to generation, as we make these choices. This is sacred work. With much of what is sacred, we embrace these actions with ritual. Many years ago, working with a group of rabbinic and education students, the discussion emerged as to the need to create ritual or blessing that can be said as one signs an advanced directive and health care proxy. This is, after all, a very powerful recognition that we will someday die. The ritual for signing an advanced directive is part of our Jewish Sacred Aging® work on new rituals.

So, as we celebrate a “miracle” of Channukah, and celebrate the miracles of everyday life, here is that blessing that celebrates the ability that we must make choices and the hope that these choices will be honored by those in whom we have given our trust. The following blessing is adapted from the work of Rabbi Dan Fliegel and Jewish educator Tess Levine.

“Blessed is God who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this season. God who has given me the power of choice and who has brought me the strength to make these decisions today. Thank you for granting me the wisdom to think ahead and to understand the great range of possibilities that could come in the future.

“When the time comes that I am no longer able to make decisions on my own behalf, may my wishes be carried out by those who are close to me. While so much is out of our control, I am grateful that I can make choices in life, make them known and have them acted out in the event I no longer have the ability to do so myself.

“I have been blessed with so much and may my family be at peace with my decisions. May we love one another and cherish our time together. Baruch Ata Adonai, who has given us free will and agency in our lives.”

Shalom and have a safe and healthy Chanukah.

1 Comment

  1. In response to a particular paragraph in the article above, I would counter his statement: “When the time comes that I am no longer able to make decisions on my own behalf, may my wishes be carried out by those who are close to me. While so much is out of our control, I am grateful that I can make choices in life, make them known and have them acted out in the event I no longer have the ability to do so myself.” being counter productive. If one has determined what they DO want done to them – when they can no longer speak for themselves – who you choose will make all the difference as to whether your wishes will be followed. While family or friends, may have promised to do as you wish…too often, I have witnessed (as a hospice chaplain) the appointed individual backtracks on promise – possibly due to pressure from others, one’s own feelings of “I can’t do it”, or even praying – may be things will change, etc..
    Often feelings of guilt, painful images, regret, religious views, prevent the patients desires to be carried out. There is always those who bring doubt demanding they NOT follow the wishes…and might even challenge in court. HOWEVER, there is now a full proof method to have ones wishes abided by. It has different names in different states. In NJ it is called POLST – PO stands for Physicians Order. If you sign this form, detailing what you and don’t want, it alleviates any one person from having to have such a responsibility and places the decision solely on the signed form – signed by the patient and their Dr. DONE!

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